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Tom Philpott's Posts

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Trans-fat riddle

How can junk-food makers label goods laden with partically hydrogenated oil

Long a staple of industrial food processors, partially hydrogenated oils are widely known to have health-ruining effects. After decades of looking the other way as study after study emerged documenting this phenomenon, the FDA is finally making moves to at least encourage consumers to avoid them. The industry is already retrenching, removing the vile stuff from popular junk-food products, often heralded by a "0 Grams Trans Fat" label on the package. Restaurant chains such as McDonalds' own Chipotle Grill have followed suit. Archer-Daniels Midland and Monsanto have even forged an evil alliance to market a genetically altered, trans-fat-free soybean oil …

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Brutal logic: Why GM soy looks set to swamp Europe

GM seed manufacturers create conditions that will force their acceptance

This post first appeared on Bitter Greens Journal. Maverick Farms, where I work, lies on a dirt road halfway up a steep hollow in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Twenty years ago all the land around here was agricultural. Each family generally had a couple of milk cows, a pig or two, and a garden plot to feed themselves; for cash, they planted cabbage (to be sold to a nearby sauerkraut factory, long gone) and tobacco. All of that has changed. The word "farm" has become a marketing tool to move real estate, and little else. The only other entity with …

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Who's watching the Franken-crops?

An internal audit exposes the USDA’s lax oversight of GM crop tests.

In a press release last June, the anti-GMO watchdog group Center for Food Safety questioned the USDA's oversight of tests involving genetically altered crops. The agency had just greenlighted a biotech company's proposal to grow test plots of rice containing human genes on 270 acres in North Carolina and Missouri, right in the middle of large-scale conventional rice production. The press release quotes a CFS scientist thusly: With this approval, USDA has signaled that it thinks it's okay to grow drug-producing crops near food crops of the same type, despite the threat of contamination ... There have already been numerous …

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Monsanto's man at the U.S. Trade Office

Bush taps a GMO flack as his chief agricultural trade negotiator.

When Bush wants to kill a program or a department, he picks a clown to run it. Think of FEMA's disgraced "Brownie," who did such a "heck of a job" when disaster struck the Gulf Coast. When the president sees something real at stake for his corporate clients, though, he tends to anoint an ultra-qualified pro: someone, typically, with direct ties to the industry in question. In surely the most spectacular example, Bush placed responsibility for creating energy policy in the crude-stained hands of Dick Cheney. The world of agriculture presents its own examples. Over on Bitter Greens Journal last …

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Two takes on Monsanto

Cheers and jeers for the GM seed giant.

Two takes on Monsanto crossed my path yesterday. One came from the stock market, the other from Fedco, the small vegetable-seed purveyor that supplies many small, sustainable-minded farms across the land, including my own Maverick Farms. The market applauded Monsanto Tuesday, driving its share price to an all-time high; Fedco, in its 2006 seed catalogue that arrived at Maverick the same day, gave it the finger. Monsanto shares surged 4 percent yesterday after the GM seed giant doubled its profit expectations for the current quarter. The company cited strong demand in Europe and the United States for its cash-cow Roundup …

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The end of U.S. vegetable farming?

Severe labor shortages in the southwest may add

A society that relies on cheap food also relies on cheap labor. Look at the meat-processing industry. Worker conditions are so wretched, so little changed from Jungle days, that Human Rights Watch saw fit to issue a scathing report on the industry last January. Because meat is perishable and prohibitively expensive to keep frozen over long journeys, meat processing cannot readily be sent overseas -- unlike, say, manufacturing. So the trick, as the Human Rights Watch report shows in wrenching detail, is to recreate working conditions prevalent in places like Guatemala, here. Things are different in the large-scale fruit/vegetable business. …

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Sustainable-ag legend Joel Salatin can farm — but can he write?

Over the past 20 years, Joel Salatin has emerged as a sort of guru of the sustainable-food movement. His 500-acre Polyface Farm in Swoope, Va., is legendary among a small circle of foodies for its robustly flavored beef, pork, chicken, and eggs. Among farmers, Salatin has won cult status for his innovations in multi-species, pasture-based animal husbandry. But readers of his new book, Holy Cows & Hog Heaven: The Food Buyer's Guide to Farm Friendly Food, won't be quite as impressed. Good moos. Photo: iStockphoto. Styled as a how-to guide for consumers, the book strives to "inform you, the food …

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Raw milk, hot commodity

Despite a recent crackdown, Washington State’s raw-milk policy might point way forward.

In a nation riddled with diet-related maladies like obesity and diabetes, the official fear that greets raw milk is impressive. You can waltz into any convenience store and snap up foods pumped liberally with government-subsidized high-fructose corn sweetener, deep-fried in government-subsidized partially hydrogenated soybean oil. Yet in many states, teams of bureaucrats devote themselves to "protecting" us from raw milk -- and imposing onerous fines on farmers who dare sell it. Some states ban raw milk outright; others have erected elaborate barriers between farmer and consumer. Here in North Carolina, for example, I have to pretend I'm buying animal fodder …

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Industrial corn: The way forward?

Corn-based packaging not as green as it looks

A few weeks ago, the New York Times ran a memorable piece on its front business page about corn overproduction in Iowa. Entitled "Mountains of Corn and a Sea of Farm Subsidies," the piece featured a photo of a monstrous pile of corn outside of a stuffed-to-capacity grain elevator, "soaring more than 60 feet high and spreading a football field wide," the text informs us. (Shame on me for not writing about this at the time; the piece has since gone premium.) One ingenious entrepreneur has even rushed out with "Ski Iowa" t-shirts, the article reports -- a funny echo …

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Three paths toward a green — and tasty — Thanksgiving

Of all the crimes against nature Thanksgiving inspires -- SUVs clogging the highways, planes shuttling fliers around the country, factory farms churning out millions of frozen turkeys -- the most grievous may be culinary. First, the above-mentioned turkeys typically taste like sawdust; cranberry "sauce," a gelatinous goo that ominously retains the shape of the can it slipped out of, doesn't help much. The standard vegetarian response -- a factory-shaped soybean log -- may be a case of the cure trumping the disease in terms of sheer horror. What, then, must you do, Grist reader? Here are three options for minimizing …

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